1 Feb. 2003 AM
Tree Of Life Wesleyan Church
A Strong People
1 Thess. 2:13-20
A bus driver and a minister were standing in line to get into heaven. The bus driver approached the gate and St. Peter said, "Welcome, I understand you were a bus driver. Since I’m in charge of housing, I believe I have found the perfect place for you. See that mansion over the hilltop? It’s yours. The minister heard all this and began to stand a little taller. He said to himself, "If a bus driver got a place like that, just think what I’ll get." The minister approached the gate and St. Peter said, "Welcome, I understand you were a minister. See that shack in the valley?" St. Peter had hardly gotten the words out of his mouth when the shocked minister said, "I was a minister, I preached the gospel, I helped teach people about God. Why does that bus driver get a mansion, and I get a shack?" Sadly St. Peter responded, "Well, it seems when you preached, people slept. When the bus driver drove, people prayed." (Contributed by: Mike Jeffress)
I read about a small Oklahoma town that had two churches and one distillery. Members of both churches complained that the distillery was giving the community a bad imagine. And to make matters worse the owner of the distillery was an out spoken atheist. He didn’t believe in God one bit. The church people had tried unsuccessfully for years to shut down the distillery. So finally they decided to hold a joint Saturday night prayer meeting. They were going to ask God to intervene and settle the matter. The church folks gathered on Saturday night and there was a horrible thunderstorm raging outside and to the delight of the church members lightening hit that old brewery and it burned to the ground. The next morning the sermons in both churches was on the power of prayer. But the insurance adjusters promptly notified the distillery owner that they were not going to pay for the damages because the fire was an act of God and that was an exclusion in the policy. The distillery owner was furious and he sued both churches claiming that they had conspired with God to destroy his business. But the churches denied that they had anything to do with the cause of the fire. The presiding judge opened the trial with theses words: “ I find one thing in this cause most perplexing-we have a situation here where the plaintiff, an atheist is professing his belief in the power of prayer, and the defendants all faithful church members are denying the very same power.” (Contributed by: Derrick Horne)
People are funny aren’t they? Here people were praying for something to happen and when it did, they denied that they had anything to do with it. We forget the power of prayer sometimes, we forget the power that we have as a body of believers. Something to keep in mind is that a great church will always have strong people. Now I’m talking about people that can lift a lot of weight, even though that does help at times, what I’m talking about are people who have trusted Jesus as their Savior and Lord and are continuing steadfast in Him. This morning we are going to look at the traits of a strong people and as we go through it this, check your strength. Let’s start by reading 1 Thess. 2:13-20.
And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last. But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan stopped us. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. (1 Thess. 2:13-20; NIV)
The first thing that we notice here is that a strong people receive the Word of God as the Word of God. The Thessalonians received the Word through the preaching and teaching of men like Paul, Silas, and Timothy as well as others. That is the only way in which we are able to hear the Word of God, is through those who proclaim it. We started talking about this last week. We are all preachers to some extent. There are people who will never hear the Word of God unless they hear it from us. If we stop telling others about what God is doing in our lives and in the life of the church, the message will stop dead in it’s tracks and no one will be reached for the Kingdom. You may be thinking to yourself, preacher you keep telling us this, why? Because its important! There would never again be another branch added to the tree of life if you and I stop spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. The only way for the Word of God to go forth is for believers to share it! Remember this: proclaiming and bearing witness to the Word of God is God’s ordained way to reach the world for Christ. He has ordained the mission of proclaiming it to men, not to angels or any other creature. The very life of every soul upon the earth rests in our hands! Are you strong in this area? Are you letting others know about God?
Something else about this strong church in Thessalonica, it’s people were strong because they received the Word of God not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God. That’s what Paul is saying here, “you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God”. A strong people will always test what the preacher says, not to find fault, but to make sure what they are hearing is the Word of God, and not man’s word. And we need to believe that the Word of God is exactly that – the Word of God. There are some out there that think the Bible is nothing more than just some code, that what it says is not what really happened. They don’t believe that God created the world in six days – they don’t believe in the flood, or in the crossing of a sea on dry land, that a great sea creature swallowed a man and he lived for three days before being spit out on dry land, or that Mary was a virgin, or that Jesus died and rose again – A strong people believe every part of the Bible, its all true, and it all comes from God through man.
Not only do we need to believe that the Word is God’s Word, we need to receive it so that it can work and operate in our lives. If we do not believe the Word of God, there is nothing left to believe but the world. If you don’t believe the Word of God, then you don’t believe in salvation, you don’t believe that God sent His one and only Son into the world, not to condemn the world but to save it, you don’t believe that there is an eternal home waiting for us, you don’t believe that you can be saved – to put it simply, if you don’t believe the Word of God, you don’t believe!
You see, the Thessalonians believed in the Word of God. Therefore, God worked in their hearts and lives, converting and growing them to be more and more like His dear Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us, “Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.” (Matt. 13:16) And how about this, “But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matt. 13:23). When we hear and apply the Word to our lives, it WILL produce a crop of a hundred, sixty or thirty times.
Paul also says that a strong people will become followers of strong churches. That they will stand fast in spite of trials. Paul said, “For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out.” There is nothing that hurts us and threatens us more than the opposition from friends, neighbors, and family. When those that we love the most oppose us, the temptation to give in is the strongest. But we must never give in, for our eternal destiny is at stake. We must continue to trust Christ to be with us, to take care of us and trust Him to win many of those who oppose us to Himself. This is what the Judean believers were doing. They were being opposed – father was turning in his son, because he followed the way – husband was turning in wife, because she believed – and yet they stood strong – and the Thessalonians modeled themselves after them – they saw how the Judean Christians were standing up against the persecution and they did the same. And we can use both churches as our model to show us how to stand against everything that the world can throw at us.
A strong church also possesses a strong fellowship. The fellowship of the Thessalonians was so strong that Paul wanted to be with them – he longed to be with them. Every once in a while I hear someone say, “I hate it when I miss a Sunday, I feel so empty all week long.” Part of the reason is because you miss the fellowship. Paul said, “But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you”. Intense longing – In the English this is not strong enough. Paul truly missed the fellowship. What he was saying was that he “intensely longed” to return: he eagerly sought to return: he sought to return with every effort: with zeal, with intense longing, with strong passion. Is that how you feel when you miss a Sunday? If it was then chances are you would not miss at all! A strong people have such a longing to be with each other, that they will make every effort to be there!
Just imagine a fellowship of believers so strong that such effort is exerted by Paul to be present with them. What a fellowship they must have had – and that in the face of persecution.
Lastly, a strong church is destined to bring glory and joy. To whom? To the believers. Glory and joy to those who founded the church, to those who reached others for the Lord, who ministered and taught the church – those that carried on the work of the church. A church full of strong people will hear things like, I remember when Joe and Bobbi had the youth over to their place – I remember when so and so was saved and baptized – I remember when the church was built here ----- we don’t lock in on those things, but they are a part of the church – and they are part of our witness.
We are a witness – great things have happened here in the past, but we also need to let people know that great things are happening now! That even greater things are going to happen in the future!
So a strong people are those who believe the Word of God, they follow the examples of strong churches, they stand tall even in the face of persecution, they know how to fellowship – and they know how to witness, for we have something to tell others about!